How Carnival was developed in Britain?

In 1958 white, racist 'teddy boy' gangs, in support of the fascist Oswald Moseley, openly attacked West Indians (as Caribbean people were called) in the North Kensington area. The blacks organised themselves and fought back. The running battles turned into the Notting Hill race riots. There were similar riots in Nottingham. One of the results of these attacks was the racist murder of Kelso Cochrane in Ladbroke Grove. In response to these events, Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian journalist, activist and editor of the West Indian Gazette, raised the issue of starting a Carnival. She wanted to build on the new unity between the Caribbean peoples forged during the riots.

Caribbean peoples from the different islands forged during the riots. Carnival was a way of expressing the black creative, cultural identity. With others, she organised the first Carnival at St. Pancras Town Hall in 1958. A procession outdoors around Powis Square in Ladbroke Grove was also organised. Unfortunately the political and cultural work ended with her death in 1964. In 1965 people in Notting Hill were still trying to build bridges between black and white communities. Under the leadership of Raunee Lasletts, a local social worker, a multicultural English Carnival procession was organised. She invited a Caribbean steelpan combo from the Colherne pub in Earls Court. The combo, organised by Russell Henderson and Sterling Betancourt, attracted local black people onto the streets.

The first Notting Hill Carnival consisted of one steelpan combo, 500 hundred followers and two policemen. A new black leadership took over the festival when there was a threat to cancel it in 1966. By 1967 Notting Hill Carnival had turned into a Caribbean Carnival with people from Barbados, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, Antigua and Trinidad, who all lived in the Ladbroke Grove area. The Carnival was a source of Caribbean identity and most importantly, of black identity in a hostile Britain, but like Carnivals in the Caribbean, everyone was welcome.

Carnival organisations began to be formed. Amongst the first were Ebony Steelband and Metronomes Steelband with mas bands attached to each. Later in 1973 Lawrence Noel formed the first costume band, quickly followed by Peter Minshall with the people associated with Metronomes steelband. More bands were formed providing Notting Hill Carnival with over 80 masquerade bands and 20 steelbands today.

Later on sound systems were introduced to attract British born youths. Some became Soca sounds and provide music for the masqueraders on the road, following the pioneering work of Lord Sam, Shadow, Peoples War and the regular Sunday sessions at the 'Home of Carnival', the Tabernacle, Powis Square, Ladbroke Grove in the 1970's and 80's.

Notting Hill Carnival became a major festival in 1975 when it was organised by a young teacher called Leslie Palmer. Part of the Carnival's popularity was due to live radio broadcasts from Carnival by Alex Pascall on his daily Black Londoners programme for Radio London. The presence of large numbers of black youths attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police. There were plans to ban the Carnival. The Carnival community formed themselves into an organisation under the directorship of Selwyn Baptiste, called the CDC (Carnival Development Committee) to promote and defend the festival. When, in 1976, 3000 police turned up at Notting Hill instead of 300, a battle ensued between police and black youth. It was called 'The Notting Hill Carnival riot'. The police and media depicted Carnival as a violent and dangerous event for many years afterwards. The Home Secretary threatened to ban the Carnival on many occasions. The supporters of Carnival, led by the CDC, were able to campaign against these measures. They were successful and Notting Hill Carnival has survived for over 30 years. The 1980s saw Carnival develop under the chairmanship of Alex Pascall, into the largest festival of popular culture in Europe. In this period over 1 million people attended Notting Hill Carnival each year.

Within Carnival today, there are organisations of mas bands, steel orchestras, calypsonians and soca sound systems. Steelbands like Ebony, Mangrove, Pantonic, Eclipse and many others tour all over Europe, Asia and Africa. Masquerade bands like Masquerade 2000, Mahogany, Stardust, Phoenix, People's War, South Connections open festivals with mas, do mas workshops and exhibition all over Britain and Europe. Bands like Burokeets, Cocoyea and Dragons have become major calypso culture promoters, organising soca dances, soca shows and promoting soca artists at large venues in London. The APC (Association for Peoples Carnival) is an organisation of Carnival supporters formed to defend the festival and promote the history, art, music, costume and culture of Carnival in Britain and throughout Europe. The Notting Hill Carnival has a unique history and is a major festival of popular culture in Europe. Nearly 2 million people form all over Britain and Europe attend. The music, art, food, spectacle and people make the Notting Hill Carnival an important and exciting event in the cultural life of Britain.


For more information on the Association for Peoples' Carnival contact Michael La Rose, co George Padmore Centre, 76 Stroud Green Road, London N4 3EN

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Local Carnivals

The first Brixton Carnival took place in 1997, and was the result of two years work by different community arts organisations within Lambeth. In the first two years the Carnival parade took place on the third Sunday in July. It started at Max Roach Park and ended at the soca stage at the Lambeth Country Show.

The Brixton Carnival reflected a range of Carnival traditions - Trinidad and Tobago, Notting Hill, Brazilian, Cuban, Colombian and other Latin American and American Carnival traditions. The music on the road was steel pan, and at the final destination there was soca, calypso, reggae, salsa, merengue, and other Latin American music styles on stage. sadly this carnival no longer takes place.

See illustrations of Phoenix Carnival band and Chinese Carnival Group

Myatts Fields Junkeno

This takes place every November, early in the month. The Junkeno (spellings for Junkeno may vary) is based on the traditional Jamaican Junkeno, which is held around Christmas time. The traditional Jamaican Junkeno always has the same characters, like Trinidad J'Ouvert Mas. The characters include sailors, Indians, duppies/skeletons/jumbies, bats, cow-head, pitchy patchy, big belly woman, and a king and queen. The costumes are built during the Autumn half term playscheme at Myatts Fields Community Centre, with help from Ros Price from South Connections Mas band at Oval House and other community arts workers.

The sound system for the past few years has been provided by Langniappe Sounds, which turns up with a massive sound truck. The Junkeno parade winds it's way through the streets around Myatts Fields estate, with torches, mega-loud soca and dancing, and is truly spectacular (the parade is on a Friday night). The costumes are mostly white and silver, so that they really stand out against the nights sky. After the parade there is a party at the Community Centre.

For more information contact South Connections (see contacts list).